A move to raise security guards' pay has stalled because many firms are worried that it may increase their costs.
This means that for the foreseeable future, a security guard's monthly basic salary of $800 will continue to be $200 less than what a cleaner gets.
The impasse could hobble the labour movement's progressive wage model, which was introduced in June last year to increase workers' salaries through better skills and higher productivity.
So far, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) has set minimum pay benchmarks in sectors such as cleaning, transport and hotel.
It began talks with security associations here last month to set the basic pay at $1,000, on a par with what was set for cleaners last year.
But Mr T. Mogan, president of the Security Association of Singapore which represents about 130 firms, believes that higher basic pay will increase overheads. This is because most of a guard's salary comes from overtime - calculated at 1.5 times the regular pay.
"We are not like landscaping or cleaning, which are based on a straightforward eight hours of work per day without overtime," he said.
He also argued that companies already have their own salary structures, and they need the flexibility to reward and promote staff without having to adhere to external rules. "It is for them to support our idea, not for us to agree to their way of doing things," said Mr Mogan of NTUC's new plan.
Mr Robert Wiener, president of the Association of Certified Security Agencies which represents more than 110 firms, is not against the $1,000 basic salary. But he wants any pay hike to be part of a more comprehensive solution to solve the sector's manpower crunch.
He said wage increases should be phased in over a couple of years, alongside efforts by the sector to cut working hours, improve training and raise the job's image to attract more Singaporeans.
"High pay alone will not draw locals to the sector," he explained.
But unionists fear that any delay in raising pay will see security guards left behind.
"It will be very difficult to explain to guards if their monthly basic salary is set lower than cleaners," said Mr Hareenderpal Singh, the president of Union of Security Employees which represents around 12,000 guards here. "It sends a wrong signal that their job is less important.
"A progressive wage model is needed to set guidelines on security officers' pay because there are firms that are not paying their guards enough."
Security guards on average earn a monthly pay of $1,700, but their basic is $800, according to the Manpower Ministry's latest annual wage report in June. The bulk of their salary comes from overtime work, by clocking in 12 hours a day, six days a week.
NTUC and the Singapore National Employers Federation have now formed a Security Tripartite Committee to continue the talks. Both security associations have also been roped in, together with officials from the police and the Manpower Ministry.
"Nobody is going to dispute that we need to raise the pay of guards and improve their working conditions, so what we need to do is discuss how best to do it," said labour MP Zainal Sapari, who oversees the implementing of NTUC's progressive wage model.
"We understand the security firms' worries, so we will discuss with them and not rush into implementing the wage model for the sector now."